Dancer Jerry Jones (George Murphy) is wounded in World War I and finding his showbiz options limited becomes a producer. 25 years later, he puts on an all-soldier revue jampacked with Irving Berlin songs. Includes Kate Smith singing "God Bless America" and a brief appearance by boxing legend Joe Louis.
March 17, 2008
What a terrific movie!
This is not at all what I expected after having seen the Abbott and Costello/Andrews Sisters musicals about the war. This is for grownups, and is of much higher quality and variety. There's no single "star" act, though Irving Berlin certainly deserves the round of applause he gets near the end. It's a team performance all the way. The story engages both troops and folks back home and serves as something happy that both can share in the middle of war.
I was going to say it's very realistic, but the "ladies" parts are very surrealistic at times. So is the aging of the actors between World War I and World War II, and the slim Kate Smith (that had to be a body double -- the camera never focused too closely on her as she sang on the stage in the street) and her weight 23 years later. There are constant reminders of the real world: the juxtaposition of the mother who lost her aviator son at Pearl Harbor during the "American Eagles" number is one excellent example, and so is the one at the end where she anxiously holds onto her younger son (who has said he hopes the war will last long enough for him to join) during the last number, which is about how this time is going to be the last time.
Perhaps that's the most poignant juxtaposition of all: early in the picture, the soldiers actually walk off the stage and march to World War I, to the great cheers and kisses and applause of the crowd; at the end of the movie, we know that these troops are going to return to combat after the show closes that night and the soldiers sing about finishing the job and this is going to be the last time; but (as the mother's anxiety shows) everybody knows now that there is not ever going to be a war to end all wars. The delusion has come to an end.
The blackface number is kind of weird. It's not often you see an act like that in the same show with a Harlem musical number. Also, they make a point of calling the blackface number "old fashioned" but point out that it is still popular with the audience. It's nowhere near as racially "edgy" as the casting of the machine gunner in a very different war movie of about the same time ("Bataan"); indeed, they seem to be kind of up on the fence about race, but I do think an effort definitely was made here to show the real diversity of American armed forces in 1943.
Joe Louis's "musical accompaniment," by the way, is excellent.
I wish there were Marines in this movie; 1943 was a big year for them, but apparently the realization of their role in the fighting had not yet sunk in on enough people for them to be included. It's strictly Army and Navy in this movie.
Now, as for war theme songs, I surely don't want to start a fire, but there *is* a theme song for our current war; it was sung by members of Congress on 9/11; and this movie is where it was first introduced (quite ingeniously, with a brief introduction early on and then the full thing done as a radio performance later on). I teared up when she did the whole thing.
Finally, per the IMDB entry for "This Is The Army," this is the only movie to star a President, a U.S. Senator, a state governor and two Presidents of the Screen Actors Guild. Ronald Reagan was President of the U.S. from 1981-1989, Governor of California from 1967-1975 and President of SAG from 1947-1952 and 1959-1960; George Murphy was Senator from California 1965-1971 and President of SAG 1944-1946.
All in all, this is quite a remarkable movie, one that still reverbrates today.
November 7, 2007
Can you imagine...
Can you imagine anyone making a movie, a musical, about the Gulf Wars or the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, or the Global War on Terrorism (now known as, because the Bush Administration changed it (removing the word Global - and I'm not making an opinion - to the War on Terrorism)